This is a list of the movies I saw released theatrically in 2011.
1. Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin (9/10)
1. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen (9/10)
Shame isn’t quite the mind-blower that Hunger was, though it is substantially easier to watch – a relative thing. Though I have many issues with the concept of “sex addiction,” Fassbinder and McQueen treat the character very much like an addict, and that is at first harder to understand but eventually much easier to understand than Fassbinder’s last role in a McQueen movie. (I could never starve myself, nor remain so silent.)
One of the things I love about McQueen is his usage of so many techniques. There are directors who love long takes and there are directors who love quick-cutting, but McQueen uses both – with a great emphasis on the form – as just one example of how he stands out. He has an astounding visual sense, which was also very noticeable in Hunger, and he also (mostly) has a great way with sound. He’s one of those guys whose films you see and you say to yourself: this guy can direct innately.
The one quibble I have with this film is the score – not the soundtrack on the whole – is often used too conventionally for such an interesting filmmaker. There are emotional cues we don’t need, that belong in a lesser film. But that is a minor quibble.
The ending is perfect.
3. Fatherland, directed by Nicolas Prividera (9/10)
Remember those TVO Canadian history docs where they had c-list Canadian actors dressed in costume and reading the letters of dead Canadians and Americans to recreate history? Well, that’s what Fatherland is, only it is much, much, much better. Beginning with the Argentinian national anthem over film-stock of protesters and rebels being beaten and killed, this film attacks what must be passing for established history in Argentina. It is mostly a series of readings from letters and books by famous Argentinians performed from atop or next to their graves in Buenos Aires’ beautiful necropolis. The concept would seem obvious if it had actually ever been done before: passages that horribly incriminate Argentina’s heroes – in their own words – in deeds of genocide are read next to and atop statues of themselves. It works wonderfully and is at times horribly ironic – and sometimes funny in a very dark way. The only issue with the film is it’s length: this is something that doesn’t move forward at all and so it should be shorter. Actually, one other issue: I don’t quite get the last shot, though it is beautiful.
4. Margin Call, directed by J.C. Chandor (9/10)
This is probably the best fictional film about the 2008 economic crisis [Note: until The Big Short] and probably the best film about finance I’ve seen since Glengarry Glen Ross.
5. Amour, directed by Michael Haneke (9/10)
At first glance, this seems to be the least-Haneke film Haneke’s ever made (or that I’ve seen, anyway). It’s a simple story, taking place entirely in the apartment of the elderly couple the film focuses on.
6. Into the Abyss, directed by Wener Herzog (8/10)
Unlike most films about murder and capital punishment, Herzog’s latest doesn’t try to convince you the killers are innocent. He accepts at face values both the story of the police – which is supported by confessions and some pretty damning physical evidence – and the claims of both murderers that they are innocent. I think he does this because the point is that capital punishment is wrong regardless of what happened, and to that point, we can never know exactly what happened in any murder that isn’t caught on tape, even if there is a ton of evidence suggesting what happened. It’s an interesting approach that I must say threw me at first. As usual, Herzog has found fascinating human beings who cannot fit into the normal world – in this case because of bad childhoods, drugs, alcohol, etc. – and there are some real moments of emotional power, pathos and humour.
Herzog also lets the faith of all the different interviewees sit there as they all – well, most of them – try to excuse their actions / consequences in the name of destiny. My only real quibble is with the chapter headings – a real nitpick of mine this year it seems – as they kind of add a pseudo-philosophical pomposity to the film that isn’t necessary.
7. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, directed by Tomas Alfredson (8/10)
For a while I have wanted to watch first the original version of this and then the remake. However, I lost my American netflix awhile ago and haven’t yet got it back. And I stupidly gave in and watched the remake first.
8. Last Call at the Oasis, directed by Jessica Yu (8/10)
9. The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne (8/10)
I was definitely dubious about this latest Payne film, partly because of the casting and partly because of where Payne has headed lately, but I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, sometimes I forget that Clooney, in addition to being Clooney, is actually an incredible actor able to express complex feelings like few others. He is also willing to humanize himself within a role in a way few other stars of his stature are willing to. The rest of the actors are also solid and the film feels like a bit of a return to form for Payne, though it’s hardly as acerbic as his earliest work.
10. Hot Coffee, directed by Susan Saladoff (8/10)
Full disclosure: I was once a drinker of the “frivolous law suits” koolaid and, if I am not mistaken, I may have even mentioned in my first book that I thought judges should make decisions on “non economic” damages in civil suits.
11. Better This World, directed by Kelly Duane, Katie Galloway (8/10)
12. Big Boys Gone Bananas, directed by Fredrick Gertten (8/10)
13. Peace Out, directed by Charles Wilkinson (8/10)
My ex-girlfriend and I had a thing where we started labeling certain documentaries “We can’t have children films.”
The Island President was one, Last Call at the Oasis was another. Peace Out is another.
Though somewhat clunkily constructed, it is an alarming wake up call to what is going on in the Peace River region of BC and Alberta. (One of the movies’ flaws is that it doesn’t confine itself to the Peace River region throughout, but also discusses the related Athabasca River region.)
Perhaps the most shocking fact I was unaware of (and it’s hardly the least shocking fact in the doc) is that the various companies don’t have to pay a cent for the public water they are gobbling up at the rate of a major city (whereas you and I have to pay for our public water).
For me the quality of the interviewees and the sense of the film outweighs the technical issues and so I can’t help but say it is a good movie, in spite of some amateurishness in the editing and filming.
14. Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater (8/10)
15. The Hunter, directed by Daniel Nettheim (8/10)
This is the second year in a row I have seen a film called the Hunter and the second time I have rated such a film 8/10. I guess it’s a title that grabs me. They are very different films just so you know. Though this is a storyline that has been seen time and again it is done very well: the acting is great, the story keeps you guessing enough even though the theme is so familiar, there are multiple moments of genuine tension and the cinematography is spectacularly beautiful. The only objection I had to the film as a whole was the score, which I found heavy-handed and overdone. This is funny because during the Q and A a guy asked a question to the effect of “how did you get a such a great score?” Trust me, it sucked. It was pounding drums in the tense moments (never heard that before…) and soaring massed strings at emotionally poignant moments (again, that’s new…). The other quibble, which I am slowly getting over, is the ending. I don’t like it. But I’m asking myself the Ebert question, ‘how else could it have ended?’ and I am having a hard time coming up with one that is as apt. (There are other possibilities but they don’t work with the story, they would just satisfy my need for unnecessary ambiguity.) Which was the better Hunter? Probably this one. This one was at least more quickly paced as the other was (deliberately) slow.
16. La chispa de la vida aka As Luck Would Have It, directed by Alex de la Iglesia (8/10)
17. Kumare, directed by Vikram Gandhi (8/10)
18. Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols (8/10)
This is basically the American 2010s version of the Last Wave, only with paranoid schizophrenia substituting for Aboriginal lore. And I think its nature as a re-imagining of that movie – deliberate or otherwise, they are so similar I think we can think of it that way – helps us deal with what we might see as a problem. Because this is either a fantastic examination of schizophrenia that falls apart disastrously at the end or it is about the onus of knowing the future, as with the Last Wave. And if we think about it in terms of the latter, the ending makes sense and is far more acceptable.
19. Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh (8/10)
I think I understand why this didn’t go over that well with audiences: Read the review.
20. X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn (8/10)
As a child, the X-Men were my favourite super heroes but for reasons I will no go into, I have not found the various X-Men films that I have seen particularly compelling. The first film was better than most of the other comic book movies of its era, but I did not enjoy the second or the third (though the third was better than Ratner’s usual output, I am guessing because the source material was better than his usual source material).
21. Albert Nobbs, directed by Rodrigo Garcia (7/10)
22. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher (7/10)
23. A Better Life, directed by Chris Weitz (7/10)
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, directed by David Yates (7/10)
For one brief, incredible moment they had me: Read the review.
25. The Island President, directed by Jon Shenk (7/10)
This is an affecting movie about the potential crisis we as a world (and specifically, anyone living close to the ocean without a hill in the way) are likely facing in the next few decades.
26. Drive, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (7/10)
27. Beats, Rhymes and Life, directed by Michael Rapaport (7/10)
28. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt (7/10)
This is the second attempt at “rebooting” the Planet of the Apes series and, I must assume, the more successful (since the Burton remake hasn’t led to other films).
29. Barrymore, directed by Erik Canuel (7/10)
30. Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen (7/10)
This is complete nostalgia and it shouldn’t work. But Allen has a way with dialogue and plot – in some of his movies anyway – that somehow sells nostalgic schlock. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy this. I think the whole thing is pretty silly and childish but he won me over. I’m not quite sure how (okay, the cast helps) but he did it.
31. Bobby Fischer Against the World, directed by Liz Garbus (7/10)
This is an interesting and affect documentary. My only quibble is that it is a little too episodic. I don’t really understand the need to turn someone’s life into “chapters.” Lives aren’t narratives and I think you can tell the story of someone’s life without relying on literary device like that.
32. A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg (7/10)
33. Crazy Horse, directed by Frederick Wiseman (7/10)
I knew nothing about this place going in, so I was a little bit surprised by the content.
The problem with fly on the wall documentaries is they cannot usually stand long running times and the biggest knock against this film is that it is far too long for its subject matter. Without giving us much in the way of characters – though far more than in the other Wiseman film I’ve seen – it is tough to sustain interest through over two hours of footage just focusing on a high end nude dancing establishment – yes, I just said that. Fortunately, he shoots people interviewing some of the people and he shoots production meetings, so we do get to know some of the major players at least a little. This results in most of the film’s best moments. It is certainly an interesting film – I now never need to go to The Crazy Horse – and I discovered at least one subject for a future documentary all his own, but this is way, way too long.
PS: This film may contain the single greatest cover of a Britney Spears song ever, if it is even possible to have something like a “single greatest cover of a Britney Spears song ever.”
34. Comic-Con Episode IV: a Fan’s Hope, directed by Morgan Spurlock (7/10)
A very enjoyable documentary even for someone like me who doesn’t care at all about collecting comics or toys, or ever becoming any kind of comic artist. It’s a little contrived sure, but it’s constructed well enough that you forget about that part and enjoy the whole experience. Now I don’t have to attend something like this.
35. The Last Gladiators, directed by Alex Gibney (7/10)
A pretty clunky style and a complete lack of big-picture-focus is saved by Chris Nilan. Now I didn’t pay attention to hockey in his prime. And I only cared about the Leafs in the early ’90s, so I had no idea who he was. But he is a hell of a documentary subject (as the producers stressed in the Q and A). I may disagree with much of what he says about hockey, but he is a great interview; unflinchingly honest, which is rare. He is the centre of the film – they decided they should do that in the editing room it seems – and it’s the way it should be. Unfortunately the film is marred by two big issues.
The first is stylistic: it is unbelievably episodic, especially for a film that is only about 1 hr 40. There are numerous chapters (15? more?). I have no idea why. All it adds it run-time. Nothing else. Some of these chapters are five minutes long. I have no idea why they are there. It’s a bizarre decision, unless without them the film is so short that it is not a feature (I highly doubt that).
The second problem is that the filmmakers are either fans of hockey fighting or got to know the enforcers so much that they felt they couldn’t in any way commit to some kind of condemnation of this. I have a huge problem with this, especially given what we are learning about the relationship between concussions, drugs and suicide / accidental death. Now Chris Nilan, Terry O’Reilly, Tony Twist etc. can argue until they are blue in the fact that they never sustained concussions but the fact is that concussions were rarely diagnosed (if ever) when they played. The head trauma, in addition to the other physical trauma, and the drastic career change in the 30s must have a huge impact on most goons, whether they could play a little or barely skate.
The filmmakers don’t really take a position on this (well they do, seeing it as entertainment), and as a result I am hugely disappointed. Those two criticisms aside, this is worth watching especially for Nilan.
36. The Man Nobody Knew, directed by Carl Colby (7/10)
What is a potentially very interesting subject it hurt a little bit by the personal nature of the film.
It isn’t organized all that well, and it often too much background knowledge (for example: what is the relationship of the OSS to the CIA?) is assumed and therefore left out. So people who don’t know who William Colby was don’t actually get enough of a picture at times.
And then there is the problem that too much of the film is focused on the familial relationships (and, as I already said, it isn’t integrated with the more interesting stuff effectively: if this were told like a mystery, it might have worked better) and especially the interviews with the very naive Mrs. Colby.
That being said, there is still a lot of interesting information and perspectives here, and it is absolutely fascinating to see how some of the last decade’s fuckups happened to be around for some ’70s fuckups too: US federal politics is incestuous.
37. Attack the Block, directed by Joe Cornish (7/10)
38. Drive Angry, directed by Patrick Lussier (7/10)
An utterly ridiculous movie in all the best ways.
39. Horrible Bosses, directed by Seth Gordon (7/10*)
I liked this movie more than a lot of people, I think. It made me laugh all the way through, which is fairly rare for such a mainstream comedy. I haven’t seen it again to see if I was just in the right mood but I definitely enjoyed myself. And unlike the movies that come after it on this list, I wasn’t constantly nitpicking about things that were going on.
40. Squat, le ville est a nous!, directed by Christophe Coello (7/10)
This documentary is a fly-on-the-wall style exploration of the origins of the Occupy movement in the squats of Barcelona (only in this case it isn’t quite a true fly-on-the-wall, since the filmmaker was actually one of the squatters).
41. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig (7/10)
42. The Raid: Redemption, directed by Gareth Huw Evans (7/10)
The plot is nothing – we’ve seen it in a million movies, basically a spin on Rio Bravo, with a twist we can see coming – but the film is pretty ridiculous: outstanding choreography – and only a little bit in terms of unnecessary camera effects – some really great camera angles, and a pace that rarely lets you realize you are watching a 90+ minute film. I think the claim that this is the best action movie of the last decade is more than a little silly, but as these things go it’s definitely not bad.
43. Battle for Brooklyn, directed by Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley (7/10)
44. Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl (7/10)
45. Breathing, directed by Karl Markovics(7/10)
Deliberate but reasonably rewarding.
46. The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney (6/10)
This appears to be Clooney’s attempt to show how a truly “good” candidate would fair in the US primaries. (Why are these films always about primaries? Oh, right, because the US has a bizarre system.) Read the full review.
47. The Awakening, directed by Nick Murphy (6/10)
48. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius (6/10)
49. Love, directed by William Eubank (6/10)
This is like a low-budget, more human-centric 21st century 2001. Read the rest of the review.
50. Hanna, directed by Joe Wright (6/10)
I think like there is something here that merits attention. Read the rest of the review.
51. The Guard, directed by John Michael McDonagh (6/10)
52. Juan of the Dead, directed by Alejandro Brugues (6/10)
This is basically a Cuban remake of Shaun of the Dead with enough differences, and enough crasser humour, to at least make it unique. This isn’t like an American remake of a British film, where they merely iron out anything foreign. This is actually a pretty distinct little movie, with plenty of gore – though much of it is off screen because of the budget – plenty of laughs and some truly terrible CGI. The biggest problem is consistency of tone, as the film careens between really funny and not at all funny and sometimes too serious, way too often. Some of the jokes just didn’t work, though subtitles can hurt timing, and there were at least two too many montages. But it was extremely entertaining in fits and starts, and it certainly was the most fun I had at TIFF this year, even if it was far from the best film I watched.
53. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, directed by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass (6/10)
54. Behold the Lamb, directed by John McIlduff (6/10)
55. Grinders, directed by Matt Gallagher (6/10)
A TVO documentary with an interesting subject (playing poker for a living) and some pretty meh construction. It was a TVO documentary after all.
56. Goon, directed by Michael Dowse (6/10)
57. Hitler’s Children, directed by Chanoch Ze’evi (6/10)
What I said at the time: Read the review.
Additional Thoughts: Unfortunately, I believe I saw an edited version. So it’s hard to judge it fairly. I still feel that the film would have been far more effective had it included some holocaust-denying offspring.
58. You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard (5/10)
I can’t say I like it when a horror film reveals most of its secrets within its opening minutes. Read the full review (with spoilers).
59. Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier (5/10)
Mental illness is very difficult to portray on screen, but when it’s done well – in this film or Take Shelter, a very similar film in many ways, or Rachel Getting Married – it can be quite affecting.
60. Captain America: the First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston (5/10)
61. Another Earth, directed by Mike Cahill (5/10)
62. Blitz, directed by Elliot Lester (5/10)
So I know that this is based on a novel, and certainly the novelist didn’t set out to write a subversive Statham movie. But it seems at some point that the director decided to that. Read the rest of the review.
63. Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (5/10)
The effects don’t translate well to the small screen so any of the scenes set on that really dark planet were difficult to watch. Aside from that, I had trouble caring too much about a god. It’s well made, of course.
64. Killer Elite, directed by Gary McKendry (5/10)
65. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (5/10), directed by Brad Bird
I haven’t seen the third and I have to say I feel like I missed a little something, but anyway. Read the rest of the review.
66. Becoming Chaz, directed by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato (5/10)
67. Where do We Go Now?, directed by Nadine Labaki (5/10)
Ah the TIFF crowd pleaser.
This is a mildly funny movie (I laughed a few times, Monique is not sure if she even laughed) that had most of the audience roaring: very safe jokes mostly along the lines of ‘tehehe, Christianity and Islam are different but the same, tehehe.’ In that sense it is like the Lebanese version of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, only with songs. That’s right: it’s a musical. Only it’s not. There are three (?) songs in the entire movie. Which leads me to it’s biggest problem (beyond the overly safe humour for the subject matter): the tone. There are long stretches where it is a comedy, there are moments when it is a not particularly funny musical, and there are stretches when it is very much a serious drama (at one point the director – yes, she cast herself – is screaming at all the men in her life for causing all this suffering). I get that as men we are expected to take at least some reverse sexism as atonement for he 1000s of years of institutionalized sexism we have inflicted on women, but the idea that women want religious and ethnic conflict to stop but cannot stop it because of the hot-headed men is as simplistic as it gets. It adds nothing to any conversation about how to move forward from these seemingly intractable conflicts (and honestly, if every mother felt the way these mothers do, why would there be war in the world?). This would be excusable if the film were funny, but despite the audience roaring and clapping throughout, I did not find it so.
68. Unknown, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (5/10)
This movie is utterly nonsensical until the twist. Read the review.
69. Bellflower, directed by Evan Glodell (4/10)
I have heard this called hipstersploitation and I think that’s probably accurate. Read the review.
70. Cowboys and Indians, directed by Jon Favreau (4/10)
A missed opportunity. Read the review.
71. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows by Guy Ritchie (4/10)
The thing I liked most about the original was Downey’s Holmes, who finally felt like the real Holmes (even if the film around him was nothing like the stories). Read the rest of the review.
72. The Eagle, directed by Kevin Macdonald (4/10)
This movie tries really hard. Read the review.
73. The Big Year, directed by David Frankel (4/10)
This film had the potential of being a penetrating dark comedy about obsession, or a slapstick comedy driven by obsession, or even a drama. It is none of these things.
Rather it is a middle-of-the-road comedy with very few jokes – okay, very few jokes that work – and a ton of sentiment. That’s not to say it’s terrible: the characters are actually pretty well developed and, not only that, the results of the competition are a) believable and b) not subject to movie cliches.
But if you are going to make a dramedy, you should make a dramedy and not throw in so many obvious failed jokes. And I really do feel like, in the hands of different people, this could have been wickedly dark. Oh well.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: what happened to Steve Martin’s face?!?
74. Ironclad, directed by Jonathan English (4/10)
75. The Other F Word, directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins (4/10)
The subject matter is interesting. Read the review.
76. A Lonely Place to Die, directed by Julian Gilbey (4/10)
This movie starts off following the genre cliches of one genre and then veering wildly into another one, and as such it doesn’t work. Read the review.
77. The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi (4/10)
I guess there are some SPOILERS!
78. 30 Minutes or Less, directed by Reuben Fleischer (4/10)
At some level I feel like this is just a wannabe Pineapple Express. Read the Review.
79. The Retreat, directed by Carl Tibbetts (4/10)
The problem with this film is the moral is essentially “never trust anyone, except when you should trust them” and we can’t work with that. Read the rest of the review.
80. Grave Encounters, directed by Colin Minahan, Stuart Ortiz (4/10)
81. The Roommate, directed by Christian E. Christiansen (3/10)
Billy Zane has gone from playing the heavy in one of the most financially successful movies of all time to featuring in shit like this…
So this movie has been made a bunch of times before. And I still don’t know why women are supposed to be scared of their roommates. Is it because they aren’t supposed to be moving out on their own until they have a fiance / husband? Probably. Why else does crap like this get made?
Beyond the terrible, paint-by-numbers plot and the pretty shitty acting on the part of the heavy, there is nothing really wrong with this. But I can’t tolerate these “reimaginings” when the original idea was bad to begin with. And incidentally, I thought we were all supposed to be having a more adult conversation about mental illness these days?
The director’s name is the best part of this movie.
82. In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol (3/10)
This movie opens with terrible expository dialogue that explains the monumentally stupid premise. I felt like I was in the pitch meeting myself. I could imagine the joy on some douche-bag executive’s face as he or she thought how great this concept was. I mean, honestly, the first third or more of the film feels like an unfinished pitch, it’s that terrible.
83. Battle: Los Angeles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (3/10)
84. Quarantine 2: Terminal, directed by John Pogue (3/10)
I thought I had seen the original but I was just getting it confused with some other “Stuck in a building, being chased by rabid humans” movies and, well, I’ve seen [Rec], so I basically have seen the original.
85. Conan the Barbarian, directed by Marcus Nispel (3/10)
86. Fast Five, directed by Justin Lin (2/10)
In the very first scene in this movie, most of the principals should have died. So, really, the movie shouldn’t exist.
Read the rest of the review.
87. Forces speciales, directed by Stephane Rybojad (2/10)
This film was brought to you by the Armed Forces of France.
88. Zombie Apocalypse, directed by Nick Lyon (2/10)
Finally a zombie film that recognizes that animals can be zombies too! Off the top of my head, the last one to do that was Return of the Living Dead. Oh wait, that was a comedy. This is serious. Zombie tigers attack!